H.C. Leeds, the Papa of American Golf Architecture
by
Kevin R. Mendik
August 2016

Herbert Cory Leeds[1]

Herbert Cory “Papa” Leeds was born in Boston on January 30, 1855, son of James and Mary Elizabeth (Fearing) Leeds. He prepared at Hopkinson’s School in Boston, then attended Harvard College from 1873-1877, receiving his AB degree in 1891 upon completion of his examination the previous year. He had a strong build and was active in many sports, playing on the baseball nine for four years and on the football eleven in 1874 and 1875. In 1875, Mr. Leeds scored the first points in the first Harvard Yale football game and they would prove decisive, as Yale failed to put any points on the board. He was a highly intelligent man, yet he was guarded about his achievements, listing no occupation on his Harvard Class Reports. He never married, but was survived by two nephews and two nieces.[2]

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Leeds at Harvard 1877 at Left, 1927 at Right. Courtesy harvard University Archives HUD 277.40 Leeds was rarely photographed. Below, Leeds at Palmetto, circa 1900.

 After completing college, he traveled extensively through China, Japan, Java and India and spent a year in Paris. By 1885, he had also visited the Western United States and the West Indies. He was an established bridge player and penned two books on the subject.[3]

He spent three seasons sailing in Cup races, each time with C.O. Iselin: first in 1893 on Vigilant in the International Cup Races with Valkyrie, and again in 1895 on Defender in the Cup races with Valkyrie III. Leeds was on Columbia in 1899 with Shamrock, where he wrote the Log of the Columbia Season of 1899.[4] In 1901 he was again on Columbia as a guest of Harvard classmate E.D. Morgan.

Columbia at Left vs. Shamrock 1899.

Columbia at Left vs. Shamrock 1899.

When the game of golf came to the Boston area in the early 1890’s, Leeds was quick to take up and excel at the new sport. He won The Country Club’s first Championship in 1893, going around the nine-hole course in 109, defeating Laurence Curtis by a single stroke. He won again in 1894, this time with a score of 110. He was also listed on TCC’s Committee on Shooting in their 1883 year book.[5]

At that time only a handful of courses existed in the Boston area: Pride’s Golf Course was relatively flat; the Essex County Club had 6 somewhat more difficult holes, TCC had 6 at a cost of $50 and soon added 3 more, followed by the nine at Myopia in 1894. There was often considerable opposition to establishing golfing grounds from the equestrian perspective, but fortunately at Myopia, there were some key proponents of golf. In 1894, there were less than 50 courses in the U.S.; by 1900, there were over 1000.

Early in 1894 when the snows had melted, Mr. R.M. Appleton, the newly elected Master of Fox Hounds at Myopia, along with Squire Merrill and A.P. Gardner, paced off distances from tees to rudimentary greens. The Executive Committee met in March, nine greens were sodded and cut and play began around the first of June. From the start, the grounds for golf at Myopia were hardly typical of relatively flat and open grounds chosen by most other clubs. The ground was rough with thin soil, fertilized by generations of cattle. The ground was rolling and required a few blind shots, the rough was horrendous and the greens had treacherous slopes. Sheep cropped the fairways.

Leeds traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine in early June 1894, expanding an existing 6-hole course laid out around a race track into a formal nine-hole course at the Kebo Valley Club.[6] The course was referred to in a news account of the day as being 1 & 3/4 miles long, or just under 3,000 yards. He returned in time for Myopia’s first tournament (25 players) on June 18th, and won with a score of 112; Mr. Curtis again coming in second with 122. Leeds also won the second tournament on July 4th, this time with a 113, and won again at The Country Club, with a 110.

He was on the team that represented TCC in the first interclub matches held in the U.S. at the Tuxedo Club in New York. TCC’s team brought home the cup, which resides today at the U.S.G.A. Museum. There is some question as to the exact date of the match, but the date on the cup is September 24, 1894.

Leeds continued to play in interclub and early International competitions, including those between TCC and Royal Montreal.

Leeds, with TCC’s team in May of 1898. Leeds, at top left is showing his right side, this is how he appears in virtually every known photo of him. Photo from Curtiss, 1932.

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Sources:

[1] See Harvard University Records of the Class of 1877, 25th, 40th and 50th Anniversary Reports.

[2] Obituary, Boston Evening Transcript, 29 September 1930.

[3] The Laws of Euchre as Adopted by the Somerset Club of Boston, March 1, 1888. ISBN 1245988557. The Laws of Bridge is referenced in Harvard University Records of the Class of 1877, 25th, 40th and 50th Anniversary Reports.

[4] Courtesy G.W. White Library at Mystic Seaport. http://library.mysticseaport.org/initiative/ImPage.cfm?BibID=36911&ChapterId=1

[5] Curtiss, Frederic H. and Heard, John. The Country Club 1882-1932 (1932).

[6] Bar Harbor Record, June 14, 1894. See also, Brechlin, Earl, Ed. The Spirit of Kebo The Kebo Valley Club 1888-1988.